Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The margin as central

Welcome to AcademicZ!

Like many people who come to realize their membership in minority groups, I have found myself at various points in life with an intense desire to learn more. Of course I’m sure all academics share a love of knowledge, literature, enlightening conversations, and good debates. However, being in a marginalized position, my identity plays a role in guiding interactions, particularly in the classroom as I assume a position of power to teach content. First, I would like to situate my perspective by sharing some personal instances in which I felt particularly driven to pursue an academic profession. I think this will be a good starting point to consider how and why people enter and/or metaphorically *fight* to be in academia and contribute to what are all too often considered “alternative” voices. Then, I pose some pedagogical questions.

My interest in minority identity issues stems from two influences: my love for history, and my consciousness as a Latina feminist.

I enjoy history because it stirs up thoughts, challenges assumptions, and angers me at times. As I tell my intercultural communication students, people who write history for the textbooks we read are highly privileged because they tell the stories about past events that are overwhelmingly accepted as hard facts. There rests inherent privilege in storytelling. For example, as a young person, I started to question why Native American extermination and land occupation by colonizers were so often sanitized in presentation. Why not call it what it was? Dehumanization, genocide, and stealing. I was even more baffled as to why everyone of Latin descent could be reasonably lumped into one large (but largely heterogeneous!) group as Hispanics - this really short changes the complexity of identities included.

Considering my own regional identity with family from northern New Mexico, it is perfectly normal for me that we proudly hold our own traditions, customs, food, and ways of thinking that constitute a blend of cultures ---> Chican@ = being Latin@/Hispanic (more specifically, of Mexican descent) AND U.S.-born. American but not white, American and culturally diverse. These identities co-exist. Reality is often sanitized.

Much of the history I learned excluded my group identities and it wasn't until much later that I acquired a more well-rounded view. This made me mad. I felt robbed. Like someone was keeping my own history from me. So I asked questions. I asked my history teacher in high school why some things were hardly mentioned, while others were elaborated upon for many pages. I asked my parents about their upbringing. I asked my grandparents about their life experiences. I searched for literature to provide me access to this information from those voices on the margins that I was so sure existed. Surely I wasn’t the first and I wouldn’t be the last to note this exclusion and identity tensions and become curious. Sure enough I was right and I have since expanded my personal library to include these histories considered “on the margin” but that are so central in understanding my societal position(s). I have also had many conversations with friends and colleagues who share these sentiments and similar pivotal life moments. I am satisfied to know this knowledge exists; but I am saddened more often than not that when I’m teaching I find I have to integrate mini-history lessons to catch students up on different ways of thinking that are perhaps unconventional. I love teaching mini-history lessons within my communication courses; I hate that my history (and that of many “others”) is marginal in the first place.

Another pivotal life moment occurred shortly after my confrontation with history. I was automatically drawn to a Chicana feminist class to count towards my Women’s Studies Certificate. I enrolled and it blew my mind. I already knew I was a feminist, especially once I realized the man-hating bra-burners were only a sensational media stereotype and NOT representative of the majority of feminists. Again, I recognized diversity within a broad umbrella term on its face, much like the diversity the Hispanic/Latino category encompasses. I first heard of the “double jeopardy” concept when I was in junior high – a woman AND a minority group member.

Well, it was at this point in my graduate education that I was finishing up my thesis and getting ready to graduate. I was also being strongly persuaded by my advisor to consider pursuing a Ph.D. It was this Chicana feminist class that gave me that final push I needed. It disturbed me to learn of the meager percentages of higher education degrees awarded annually to Hispanic females. I couldn’t believe how groups are differentially affected by poverty and systematically disadvantaged, or have experiences hitting glass walls and ceilings within organizations, though perhaps some would never admit to experience with institutional discrimination. I felt like I owed it to myself and my entire cultural and gender group to obtain a Ph.D. Of course, my collectivist-oriented family members are extremely proud of my accomplishments and my working towards a Ph.D. is a group credit.

“Dr. Martinez (one day soon), wow!”

But for me, my teaching and research can be pretty personal, exciting, fun, yet sometimes conflicting and difficult. The more I teach, the more I learn. The more I research, the more questions I come up with.

So, these two pivotal life experiences inform questions I have that are not easily answered:

1) How can we navigate multiple cultures at once as uniquely layered individuals and teach effectively to groups of students who are not similar? Where is the fine balance between living marginalization and teaching to the majority?

2) Is it possible to divorce ourselves from our personal identities and perspectives to teach and conduct research neutrally? Should this be something that is desirable? Is it fair to be asked to keep personal perspective out of our academic lives?

My colleague Kevin and I have pondered and discussed such questions and have come together on some shared experiences. On the one hand, it is a relief to know our experiences are not easily chalked up to personality. Kevin and I are effective teachers. We enjoy teaching greatly, take our responsibilities to students seriously, and strive to become better constantly. On the other hand, it is perplexing to teach as the “other” to the in-group.

We are both eager to engage discussions surrounding these identity tensions as Latin@ communication scholars.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Welcome to AcademicZ

A couple of years ago fellow graduate student, Amanda Martinez, and I found ourselves talking a lot about our experiences in academia. In reflecting upon our conversations we noticed that many of our experiences stemmed from a shared experience- our identity as Latino/a. The more we talked with one another about research, teaching and service, the more we realized that we had much to learn from one another through a dialogue about our experiences. Along the way, we engaged other Latino/a scholars at conferences related to our discipline in communication and wondered how we could better sustain this dialogue.

AcademicZ is a space where we can share our experiences and reach out to one another. Our hope is that this serves at least three purposes for Latino/a scholars in higher education: 1) a forum where we can connect with one another and build a network of understanding, 2) exercise our voice, and 3) hopefully identify patterns of challenges and opportunities so that we can be more effective as scholars, teachers, and mentors.

So please join us, hear what we have to share, reach out to one another, and be the change we seek.

kch & am